Monday, August 5, 2019
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
Finding Unity in Catastrophe
An attack by aliens might break our propensity to gather into tribes. This tendency, baked into our genes, causes us to gather into groups. We then develop us versus them attitudes, see outside groups as inferior, and denigrate, isolate, or even attack them.
An assault by an alien civilization would create the triangulation necessary to bring our inherently warring tribes together. Overriding our innate tendency towards group identification, we humans—individuals communities, nations—would likely unite in protecting ourselves from the aliens.
Triangulation would still exist.
It too resides in our genes.
But the “other” group, namely the threatening beings-from-another-planet, would cause our warring human tribes would line up together. Like occurs in geometry, our many individual points would form into a line organized against the point on the other side of the triangle.
The pollution dirtying the air, the poisons contaminating the waters, and the waste destroying the earth may offer an opportunity for a similar triangulation—without the troubling effects of an alien invasion!
What a perfect irony.
Our own self-destruction just might result in an unprecedented hope for humanity.
Because the centuries-old tendency towards compartmentalization, known in psychoanalysis as dissociation, seems to be counterbalanced by the ever-increasing awareness of the damage it has done.
We are losing our capacity to ignore our wanton destruction of the planet.
Our powerful capacity to dissociate—to forget we consist, in part, of air and water and earth—could lead us towards an unexpected unity.
Here are just a few of the signs of dissociation ending and integration beginning:
Just this morning, the New York Times describes the “disrupting and energizing” power of the Sunrise Movement. Virtually unknown even a year ago, the Democratic group, which some fear will push the party too far to the left, focuses on protecting the planet from imminent environmental disaster.
A few days ago, the Times featured a story that young American Republicans consider climate change of utmost urgency. They are causing the Republican party to reconsider its platform. Its leaders worry Donald Trump’s policies of ignorance regarding global warming won’t work for younger conservatives.
In the last few months, China has stopped receiving shipments of “hard” waste, i.e. dead cellphones, condensed plastics, etc. They have finally put a barrier on their previous willingness to process our discards—an incomplete process at best, and one contaminating their own country.
During November 2016, and unprecedented in human history, the Paris Climate Accord went into effect. Signed by the leaders of 195 nations, the Accord creates guidelines for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Even though Trump foolishly withdrew from the agreement, the Accord represented the first time so many nations have come together to achieve a common goal.
(As of February 2019, only Angola, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, Oman, Russia, South Sudan, Suriname, Turkey, Yemen, and the US had not yet ratified the agreement).
Despite Trump’s foolishness, and Putin’s intransigence, nations around the world are waking up to humanity’s failure to consider themselves part of the environment.
Beginning in the 1970s, groups of activists and politicians began prioritizing environmental issues, from cleaning up the air to reducing dependence on fossil fuels. This ultimately led to the phrase, the Green New Deal, coined by journalist Thomas Friedman. He wrote in January 2007:
We will only green the world when we change the very nature of the electricity grid—moving it away from dirty coal or oil to clean coal and renewables. And that is a huge industrial project—much bigger than anyone has told you. Finally, like the New Deal, if we undertake the green version, it has the potential to create a whole new clean power industry to spur our economy into the 21st century.
The Green New Deal calls for one hundred percent clean, renewable energy by 2030. Mirroring FDR’s New Deal intended to pull the US out of the Great Depression, the Green New Deal too mobilizes the public to work towards radically changing our dissociated approach to the environment.
How again does this relate to dissociation?
Consider a man who throws his empty soda can out of his car window. He sees his identity, as Vedanta philosophy notes, as existing within his “sack of skin.” This is precisely why the Buddhists consider self a delusion. In truth, air, water, and food are more important than, say, an arm. It could be surgically amputated. Cut off those other, environmental needs, and you’re dead within days or weeks.
The scale of our disrupting the planet has exploded so violently as to render the soda can example absurd. A singular argument against nuclear power, for example, is that it creates human-made, radioactive waste with half-lives of 100,000 years.
The entire history of human civilization is only 5,000 years old.
Many examples come to mind, but global warming seems, finally, to be gaining the most attention. Not only have reams of scientists validated its existence, pretty much everyone on the planet now experiences it.
Just last year, we who live in Southern California have experienced new temperature highs (117 degrees August 2018) followed by a winter with unprecedented rain.
Like the experts have said, we will not be seeing so much global warming as weather weirdness.
This new potential opportunity for a beneficial triangulation is far from a guarantee.
A dark possibility exists, and that would consist of further regression into tribalism. Donald Trump’s ridiculous America First, or the suicidal Brexit facing the UK right now, exemplify such potential developmental retreats.
It might take the form of countries with excess water depriving their neighbors of it.
Or, as is already occurring, northern countries could block migrants from southern ones, creating bands of poverty, destruction and death in areas most affected by global warming.
As Alexander Solzhenitsyn concluded in his classic exploration of tyranny, The Gulag Archipelago, global change begins with individual action. In other words, rather than passively waiting for governments to lead the way, you strive towards integration on our own.
The smallest steps matter, and for many reasons.
People tend to mimic one another. Therefore, any action, however minor, sets an example.
You contribute, in some way, to saving the planet, empowering yourself.
You become part of the Green New Deal.
Perhaps your contribution will be as simple as no longer throwing a soda can out your window.
Perhaps it will be as complex as installing solar panels, buying an electric car, joining the Zero Waste movement, growing your own vegetables, adjusting to a warmer or colder living space, and using public transportation.
The smallest changes beget the largest ones.
Please consider any way you can help humanity regain its status as a human family.
The time has come for tribalism to end, and for the human race to unite.
It may well be that we have no choice.
We will either join together as peoples and nations to fight this now-global threat, or we will be party to the extinction of the human race.
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Alan Karbelnig, PhD, ABPP